“I’m from Ballina and I work as a falconer at Mount Falcon Estate. It’s only a 15-minute drive down the Foxford road.

I started working in the hotel as a gym instructor in 2017. I was only there a few days, when this huge, big bird flew in the door and landed on the till beside me. I nearly got a heart attack. ?I didn’t know what this bird was, I thought it was a huge eagle! I stood up and walked out of the pool as calm as I could. I was watching the bird and she started to fly towards a candle and I didn’t want the poor bird to be set on fire so I rushed out towards the bird and went to shoo her out but what I didn’t realise is that she was actually trained to land on your arm if you raise it up. So, she landed on my arm.

An introduction

The bird’s name was Phoenix, a Harris Hawk and she had big scary looking talons, but she was super gentle. She didn’t hurt me at all. I stayed calm and walked outside. I saw a man looking around the trees and I didn’t shout at him because I didn’t want to scare the bird. After a few minutes, he came walking towards me. He had the glove (gauntlet) on and he got Phoenix to fly back to him. He then asked me if I wanted a proper go at it. That was Martin, the head falconer. We chatted and we went up to look around the aviary. He asked me if I had much experience with birds and I made a joke that I had a budgie years ago. Then he said I handled the situation really well and would I be interested in working with him to train as a falconer, so it just took off from there.

I always had an interest in health and fitness but I really wanted to work with animals. I did business with health and fitness in college and I put the whole working with animals’ thing on the back burner because it feels like there are few places in Ireland that you can actually work with animals, plus it would mean having to leave Ballina. It is amazing how it happened, it just fell really, really nicely into my lap.

Flying high

I work with the birds all year round. In the winter, it is important to fly the birds and keep training them, plus they need feeding and minding. What I absolutely love doing most in the world is flying the birds. The hawks, the owls, the falcons mainly. I have to say, flying these birds is my hobby. It is unreal when the bird is soaring above you.

We feed them once every 24 hours between one and two o’clock in the day. Did you ever hear the term ‘fed-up’?’ That actually comes from falconry. It is a way of saying that the birds are physically fed-up; full of food, they don’t want to do anything but chill out.

Falconer Daniel Gibbons with Fiadh the rescued falcon/Pic credit: Michael Pajkert

We weigh the birds every morning and from their weight I know how much they are going to fly for me. If they are too light, they won’t have energy for flying and if they are too heavy, they won’t want to fly because, well, we don’t really want to do too much when we feel too full either!

Our guys are on a diet of chicks, quail and mice. The food comes in frozen and we prepare it. We strip down the quail and chicks. A lot of people want to do this job but they struggle with this aspect of it.


If an injured bird is found in the area, we usually get a phone call. Usually, it is a local farmer who finds them. Most of the birds are ok after a few days and they head back out into the wild. It was a farmer who found Fiadh too. She was discovered last October and after her test for avian flu was returned negative, she has been here with us. She’s like a little pet. The vet thinks there is neurological damage which is long term. She has her own personality like all the other birds. She is just over a year now so she still has her juvenile feathers but once she goes through her first moult, she will look like a peregrine falcon.

Martin McPhilips, who trained me in, retired in October, just before Fiadh arrived and I stepped into his shoes. Once I get more established, I am hoping to get out and work with local farmers on pest control. All we do is head off out to the fields where the farmer is having problems and we fly the birds around. Once the crows see the bigger birds, they know it’s not the safest place for them so they stay away.

When I have free time, I head off to Enniscrone beach with my three dogs for a walk, two border collies and a Siberian husky. They need a mad amount of exercise. You won’t catch me inside much!”

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